Students Presenting Research the the A&S Student Symposium

First-Year Students Present Perceptual Dialectology Research Projects

June 26, 2023

Conducting and presenting research at the School of Arts & Sciences Student Symposium is a common experience for many A&S students. Less common, though, is to have first-year students present their research at the symposium.

At the 38th Annual A&S Student Symposium in spring 2023, three groups of fist-year students presented their research on perceptual dialectology, a branch of folk linguistics investigating what average "folk" think about dialects.

"The symposium was a great experience, which I wasn't expecting to have as a freshman, said student Christine Kuykendall. "It was a great feeling to present a project that we had worked very hard on, and it was cool to see other projects in completely different subjects."

Mia Stavola, Stella (Zhouji) Wu, Mairin Conrad, and Leo Chen studied New York City English. Using geospatial analysis tools, they found a significant correlation between prestige ascribed to dialectal areas within the city and their socioeconomic status and racial demographics.

Christine Kuykendall, Conner Partin, and Katie Bloom investigated three supra-dialects of England: Received Pronunciation, General Northern English, and Cockney. Their research found that Americans perceive these dialects similarly to UK residents, basing their attitudes on perceived correlations between dialect and socioeconomic status likely informed by their representation in the media.

"My favorite thing I learned was the idea that any 'standard' language is a myth," said Kuykendall. "There is no one 'correct' way to speak English, everyone is speaking a dialect or a variation, and one is not better than the other because they all have the ability to adequately communicate thoughts and ideas."

The third team, Lila Taylor, Milo Michalczewski, Schuyler Doucette, and Vir Shanmugam, also studied New York City English using a Likert-scale rating study. They found that younger New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers attach less stigma to the Italian New York City dialect than older people.

The students were part of the First-Year Seminar "The Power and Prejudice of Language" taught by Elizabeth Kissling, associate professor of Spanish and applied linguistics. During the course, students explored perceptual dialectology and learned how to build and deploy online experiments, do basic statistical analysis in Excel, and prepare research reports of publishable quality.

"I learned a lot about how to present data in a thorough way," said student Lila Taylor. "I improved my ability to write a good research paper through this class."

"I am very proud of what they were able to accomplish in one short semester, especially given that this was their first foray into the field of linguistics," said Kissling.